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The Body Envisioned by Jigoro Kano

The Body Envisioned by Jigoro Kano

– Based on his career as a judo master, IOC member and principal of

Tokyo Higher Normal School –


It is not appropriate to evaluate Jigoro Kano only as a judo master. Viewed from a different standpoint, one such achievement was his activities allowed Japanese to participate in international sport events, and yet another was his influence on Japan’s educational world. Based on the life story of Jigoro Kano, he established the general idea of “moral doctrine” and pursed peace across borders, classifying and systematizing the body techniques of judo and spreading them around the world. For those of us who wish to promote world peace using the body and related culture, it is important to study the hybrid body of Jigoro Kano.

1. Introduction

Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) is well known throughout the world as the person who created “judo, which is based on the martial art “jujutsu”—practiced in Japan for hundreds of years—and established the Kodokan. The present popularity of judo around the world can be attributed to the fact that after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, judo was introduced as an Olympic sport, and the Kodokan continually made efforts to promote interchange among judo experts in various countries. Thus, it goes without saying that it is Jigoro Kano who triggered the rise of judo’s popularity.

However, it is not appropriate to evaluate Kano only as a judo master. Viewed from a different standpoint, he achieved things more important for Japan’s sports world than the invention of judo. One such achievement was his activities at the international level, and yet another was his influence on Japan’s educational world.

In 1909, Kano was appointed as the first Japanese member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) upon recommendation by Auguste Gérard (1852-1922), French Ambassador to Japan at that time, who was entrusted with the selection of a suitable person by Pierre de Coubertin. In those days, Kano was the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School (now University of Tsukuba). This position was very influential to the educational world, particularly for that of physical education (i.e., “taiiku” in Japanese) in Japan.

The reason for his appointment was, of course not, limited to this fact. In 1882, Kano established the Kodokan as “a school to teach judo” (Kano and Ochiai 1927-1930b, p.18). The word “Kodokan” itself is comprised of three Japanese words—“ko,” “do” and “kan.” “Ko” means to “teach,” “do” means “basics” and “kan” means “school,” thereby literally translating into “school that teaches the basics.” Since opening the Kodokan, he devoted time to teaching judo as “budo,” steadily increasing the number of pupils. [note1]

It can be said that this was the other reason for his appointment. That is, it is Kano who built the base that allowed Japan’s sports world to participate in various international events including the Olympics. Considering this, let’s review more details of his relation with the Olympics.

Coubertin requested Kano to dispatch Japanese athletes to the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, so in 1911, Kano established the Dainihon Taiiku Kyokai (Japan Athletics Association) as the organization for selecting and dispatching athletes. He was appointed as the chairman of the association, under which selective athletic meets were held. As a result, Yahiko Mishima, a sprinter from the University of Tokyo, and Shizo Kanaguri, a marathon runner from Tokyo Higher Normal School, were the first Japanese to participate in the Olympics. Following this, 15 athletes participated in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, winning two silver medals. The number continued to grow and 43 Japanese athletes participated in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where Mikio Oda won a gold medal in the triple jump event, Yoshiyuki Tsuruta won a gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke race, and Kinue Hitomi participated as the first Japanese woman athlete in the Olympics.

Furthermore, Kano succeeded in inviting the 1940 Olympics to Tokyo during the IOC meeting held in Berlin in July 1936. In the following year, the Japan-Sino War (1937-1945) broke out, but nevertheless it was officially decided to hold the Olympics in Tokyo at the IOC meeting (Cairo) held in March 1938. Kano, who attended the meeting as the chief representative of the Japanese Olympic Delegation, passed away after coming down with pneumonia onboard ship during his return trip to Japan (May 1938). In July 1938, approximately two months after his death, the signs of a coming war began to gradually show, and the Konoe Cabinet inevitably decided to turndown the opportunity to host the Olympics (e.g., the Tokyo Olympics was held in 1964). These occurrences were regrettable indeed, yet there is no doubt that the appearance of Japanese athletes on international stages is directly related to the efforts of Kano.

In this paper, the author reviews the life of Jigoro Kano, from his birth on 1860 into a home that operated a family sake brewery established in 1659 in Hyogo Prefecture, to his death, analyzes Kano’s thoughts about the body as related to judo and how he interpreted the appearance of Japanese people on the international stage, including sports events, while taking into account his practical way of thinking about actual education as the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School.

Viewed in terms of P. Bourdieu’s concept, Kano’s early life and the “capital (economic capital, cultural capital and social capital)” (Bourdieu 1979a, b, 1980a, c; Ishizaka 2007) he acquired through his academic and professional careers worked effectively in the world of sports and on occasions when businessmen and politicians gathered and talked about sports world, “champ” (Bourdieu 1980b, 1988). That is, Kano acquired various capitals, giving him “symbolic power” that enabled him to cutout paths advantageous to him on various occasions.

2. The Life of Jigoro Kano

Jigoro Kano was born as the third son of an established sake brewer in Mikage, Muko County, Hyogo Prefecture on December 10, 1860. In 1871, he went to Tokyo along with his father—who had changed his career—and began studying Chinese classics and Western science. In 1873, he enrolled in Ikuei Gijuku where Dutch and German teachers gave all of their lectures in English; that is to say, he pursued knowledge in English from his early teens. He also took English courses at the Tokyo School of Foreign Studies and entered Kaisei School—the most difficult school to enter at that time—which was established for educating elite young men expected to become the mainstay of Japan as a modern state. Regarding his years at Kaisei School, Kano commented:

Here too, I never yielded to anyone in learning as far as my devotion to studies, and yet as to my physique, I could not stand comparison to others. Therefore, my desire to train myself in the art of jujutsu became stronger and stronger, and I earnestly searched for a dojo (jujutsu school) suitable for me. (Kano and Ochiai 1927-1930a, p.3)

Kano came to have a sense of inferiority about his height from around that time, and strongly felt the necessity to train himself in jujutsu. In 1877, he was admitted to the Faculty of Literature of the University of Tokyo, the highest institution of learning, and began studying the jujutsu of Tenshin Shinyoryu, originated by Matauemon Iso at the dojo of Hachinosuke Fukuda. Fukuda passed away, and he became a pupil of Kitoryu, studying under Master Iikubo.

Kano established Kodokan in May 1882, while learning jujutsu under Master Iikubo. When studying Tenshin Shinyoryu, he learned mainly grappling techniques, choke techniques, joint techniques, hold-down techniques and striking techniques, and Kitoryu taught mainly throwing techniques. He compared and examined the various techniques, which greatly influenced his formation of a system called “judo” (Inoue 2000, pp.71-72).

Kano once commented, “I used to participated in various sports such as gymnastics, rowing and foot races, and often played catch and baseball in particular. But such sports require wide spaces and are not ideal for training the whole body.” He believed that jujutsu was the best means for training the body. (Kano and Ochiai 1927-1930b, pp.15-16)

In the aforementioned passages, reference is made to Kano’s experience in relation to the body and physical exercise. However, in discussing his life, it is also necessary to touch upon his network of friends; that is to say, the formation of his social capital. In the Faculty of Literature at the University of Tokyo, Kano learned philosophy, political science and English literature from foreign teachers such as Ernest F. Fenollosa, Charles J. Cooper and William A. Houghton, and Chinese classics and Indian philosophy from first-class Japanese academics. Among his classmates were friends who became, for example, a professor of National Law at the University of Tokyo, a president of a liberal arts college, a counselor of the Privy Council and the head librarian at the Imperial Library (an authority of Japanese and Chinese classics). At Gakushuin, Kano became an assistant professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics in 1882, and then became professor and the head teacher in 1886. Thus, through his career as an teacher at Gakushuin, which is attended by children of the Imperial Family and other nobles and high society, he built a network with people from these social classes.

From September 1889 to January 1891, Kano went to Europe, where he visited Lyon, Paris and Berlin for the purpose of inspecting the educational systems there. He made onsite inspections of academic institutions in those cities, making the most of the pupil network built at Gakushuin and classmate network at the University of Tokyo. He met with Fujimaro Tanaka, the diplomatic representative to France, and Duke Saionji, the diplomatic representative to Germany. In Berlin, he expanded his network further by staying at a hotel together with Japanese students studying in Germany, including Shinpei Goto, who later became a famous politician. After that, he visited the southern part of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Holland and England.

After returning from his investigative trip to Europe, Kano explained that the reason why Japanese were inferior to Europeans was because the Japanese education system was inferior. (Kano and Ochiai 1927-1930c, p.178) Presumably, he leveled criticism at the disciplinary and uniform way education was promoted at schools from the beginning of the Meiji Era, and the ineffectiveness of an educational system attaching too much importance to the spirit of self-government as demonstrated in the dormitory systems of elite schools.

3. Jigoro Kano as an Educator – Sports and Gymnastics

Kano returned to Japan from Europe in January 1891, was married in August and left Tokyo in September to assume his new post as the principal of the 5th Higher Middle School in Kumamoto Prefecture. In June 1893, he became principal of the 1st Higher Middle School in Tokyo and concurrently assumed the councilor post in the former Education Ministry. The 1st Higher Middle School was a leading government school in the Japanese secondary education system; an elite school that sent many of its graduates to the University of Tokyo. He criticized the self-governing spirit promoted by Hiroji Kinoshita (the matchmaker of his marriage), a famous principal of the 1st Higher Middle School as follows:

— I was not satisfied with the self-governing system advocated by Principal Kinoshita as it was. — It is no exaggeration to say that there was no educational instruction being given at many schools. — Taking such conditions into account, Principal Kinoshita dared to advocate a self-governing system that required students realize the responsibility of governing themselves. Accordingly, the self-government he advocated was not wrong in its entirety. Yet, this is inevitably accompanied by many evils. If a principal allows students to govern themselves freely, it can be said that the principal cannot perform his duties as an educator. If students can govern themselves well, it is not necessary for them to receive education except to obtain knowledge. At any school, it is only right for the principal to provide guidance to the students. A principal should nurture his students so that they may reach the ideal he conceives. Students should endeavor to improve themselves in accordance with the ideals and policies of the principal of their school, and they should be able to do so without receiving instructions from others about every single thing. Students should take action voluntarily, not forcedly; that is real self-government. — Principal Kinoshita’s policy was to accommodate all students in dormitories. However, the maintenance of cleanliness and order in dormitories was unsatisfactory, and this could not be considered to be a result of a good education. — Therefore, I advocated my opinion to Principal Kinoshita, explaining that such vices should be eliminated to realize true education and that the present self-governing system, which lacked appropriate guidance and supervision, should be abolished. He agreed with my opinion, saying that the system was introduced as a temporary measure. I understood what he meant, and considered that it might be the second best policy formulated taking the tendency of the times into consideration. (Kano and Ochiai 1927-1930d, pp.195-197)

After three months, in September 1893, upon assuming office as the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School, Kano immediately reformed the organization of the school and the application qualifications of incoming students. Of the reforms introduced, the most important was the elimination of militarism. Apparently, he flatly raised objection to the militaristic education that dominated Japan’s educational system since the time of Japan’s first Education Minister, Arinori Mori. [Note 2]

“Minister Mori’s Concept of Education and Related Comments”

What disappointed me most was that Mr. Mori’s achievements in training future educators were not very outstanding. — In my opinion, he was right in his view of the matter. But he was not well versed in education, and planned one thing or another based on layman’s ideas; continuously implementing one plan after another, but with results falling short of his expectations. He advocated three virtues—gentleness, trust and dignity—which were acceptable as advocacy, but did not produce satisfactory results. Furthermore, he tried to train future educators based on a militaristic education, encouraging them to conduct military drills. The concept was not entirely wrong, but I think his way of trying to materialize it was inappropriate. Indeed, educating men partly in terms of formality has sometimes been employed from olden times. It is reasonable to do so, provided that the men are educated in terms of spirit at the same time. Education without attaching importance to spirit is useless. Training future educators requires the person to understand the tremendous effect education has and realize the pleasure of being an educator. Even if an externally expressed evaluation is not physically or mentally satisfactory, one must express a true pleasure in providing educating experience to the learner; this spirit is indispensable for educators. Cultivating this spirit is of prime importance in the training of future educators. (Omission)

I have attached great importance to education since I became the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School, but I also became determined not to pay any special attention to military styles. To begin with, I have had our students wear normal caps instead of German-style military caps. I also solved all problems related to dormitory life by attaching importance to spirit irrespective of formalities. (Kano and Ochiai 1927-1930d, pp.202-204)

In fact, Jigoro Kano set forth the provisional regulations for the student dormitories of Tokyo Higher Normal School in July 1895, and eliminated the military-style branch system used by the dormitories at that time. He continued his position as the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School for three terms, totaling approximately 23 years: 1st term, September 1893 to September 1897; 2nd term, November 1897 to June 1898; and 3rd term, May 1901 to January 1920. He reformed course structures, introducing a special gymnastics course including two additional events, judo and kendo. He introduced a physical education course in 1915; extending the term of study from three to four years and having students study education, ethics, physiology and anatomy. In doing this, he laid the foundation for training physical education teachers in Japan.

Furthermore, Jigoro Kano placed a focus on the sporting activities of each athletic clubs. He scheduled regular sports meets as school events, such organizing cross-country races (spring and autumn, 20~30km from the suburbs of Tokyo to the school), a track-and-field meet (autumn), and swimming practice (two weeks during the summer), in addition to judo and kendo. As a result, Tokyo Higher Normal School came to be known as the school most active in physical training and sports.

However, Kano assumed a critical attitude towards gymnastics—which he considered to overly disciplinary and uniform—and regarded judo—which he considered to be systematic—as the most ideal exercise for the entire body.

To train oneself to be able to move the whole body freely, I think judo is much more effective than gymnastics. Trying to train oneself by gymnastics, to be able to move the legs and arms freely, is not interesting at all. (Watanabe 1971, p.86)

While assuming a critical attitude towards gymnastics, considering it to be overly disciplinary and uniform, Jigoro Kano encouraged children of the elementary school affiliated to Tokyo Higher Normal School to play not only baseball with a rubber soft tennis ball (hitting the ball with the palm of the hand) and football, but also other various games on the playground and at Senshunnen Garden (dotted with small ponds and woodland areas). (Shimizu 1996, p.140)

4. Ideas of Jigoro Kano: Modern Rationalism and World Peace

So what ideas took the lead in his activities to foster the sport of judo and spread it throughout the world? Shun Inoue pointed out the following characteristics that Kano systematized for judo.

(1) Kano, being a rationalist, systemized judo by classifying various judo techniques and putting them into an order, doing so while establishing a theory on judo techniques based on the principles of basic dynamics and athletic physiology.

(2) After theoretically classifying and systematizing judo as a physical exercise that could be explained, he worked to disseminate it widely through printed media, where he explained the techniques and methods for teaching it.

(3) Kodokan judo spread into the Metropolitan Police Department, regional police offices, schools and armies. The fact that Kano was the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School and held important posts at other higher educational institutions was very advantageous for spreading judo into academic institutions.

(4) To encourage judo players and novices to practice and improve, Kano introduced a skill ranking system—the dan/kyu system (hierarchy) adopted in the world of go and shogi, with the 10th dan as the highest rank achievable. He awarded Tsunejiro Tomita and Shiro Saigo the ranking of Kodokan 1st dan in 1883. Soon afterwards, the dan/kyu ranking system was adopted for kendo and kyudo as well.

(5) Recommended by B. H. Chamberlain and P. Rafcadio Hearn, who were in Japan at that time, and in response to invitations from various countries, judo masters went abroad to spread Kodokan judo. One of the judo masters, Mitsuyo Maeda, endeared himself to all and became intimately known as “Conde Coma.” Carlos Gracie, the inventor Gracie Jujutsu, was one of Maeda’s pupils. (Inoue 2000, pp.71-90)

Inoue points out that Jigoro Kano came to recognize the following two facts during his activities to spread judo abroad. (Inoue 2000, pp.90-91)

Firstly, Japan’s present-day cultures—in all their brilliance—are the culmination of importing diverse cultures of various countries over some tens of hundreds of years. Therefore, it is significant to teach judo to those people in foreign countries who wish to learn it, thereby growing Japan as a country capable of teaching something spiritual. Secondly, if we teach judo in foreign countries, it will promote mutual understanding and friendship between judo instructors and learners in those countries and their Japanese counterparts. As a result, we will grow to trust them, and likewise, them to trust us, and it will become possible for both countries to share the benefits. Moreover, should a conflict unfortunately arise between the countries, such mutual trust will help to resolve the conflict amicably. (Kano 1933, p.385)

Kano, who earnestly wished for global peace among nations and Japan to be recognized as playing a key role in said history, believed in “Seiryokuzenyou Jitakyoei (maximum efficient use of power, and mutual welfare and benefit).” “Seiryokuzenyou” means “to use the power of mind and body most effectively.” That is, to use the power of the mind and body in the most rational way without wasting it, and moreover, to use that power for “the good”: “the good” being that which “supports the existence and development of life as a group or social life. To use one’s power most effectively for “the good” is “Seiryokuzenyou.”

For realizing “the good,” Kano often used the phrases “Sojosojo (mutual assistance and concession)” and “Jitakyoei (mutual welfare and benefit of oneself and others).” That is to say, he advocated that the ultimate purpose of training oneself in the art of judo should be to understand and utilize these fundamental ideas, thereby making oneself perfect and contributing to society.

The idea of “Seiryokuzenyou Jitakyoei” is a “moral doctrine” and a “principle to guide people” that transcends judo. For judo based on this idea, important are not only randori (free practice in judo) and training in judo skills in a dojo, but also “cultivation of the mind.” In other words, “never neglect cultivation of the mind in places other than a dojo.” The Kodokan judo devised by Kano, I think, thus came to place emphasis on cultivating the mind, and it attracted public attention because it forms character and there was a demand for talented statesmen. This trend resulted in the formation of a unique culture, “budo,” which places an emphasis on spiritualism rather than learning techniques. (Inoue 2000, pp.92-95)

5. The Hybrid Body of Jigoro Kano

Through establishing Kodokan and systematizing and spreading judo, Jigoro Kano grew to have a great influence upon educational world as the principal of Tokyo Higher Normal School. Well known in many networks, he was appointed as a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1909. The particulars thereof and a historical outline following Japan’s first appearance in the Olympics were described in the “Introduction.”

In addition to his many other achievements, it should be remembered that Kano contributed to the acceptance and education of foreign-exchange students in Japan. As the principal of Kobun Gakuin, Kano admitted 7,192 foreign students during the period from 1896 to 1909. Irrespective of the Sino-Japanese war (1895-1896), he welcomed 13 students sent by the government of the Ch’ing Dynasty in 1896 and developed appeasement diplomacy with the Chi’ng Dynasty as a result. Lu-Xun, who later became a famous writer, was among the 13 students. At Kobun Gakuin as well, Kano attached significant importance to physical training and sports. He enforced physical training for five hours each week, year-round, and encouraged students to participate in athletic club activities such as kyujutsu, tennis, hiking and so forth. Field trips such as excursions to scenic spots and places of historic interest, and large regional sports events were part of the curriculum as well. (Sanada 2007)

Many things regarding Jigoro Kano’s connection to the origin of judo and the dissemination of Kodokan judo throughout the world have been discussed, but we have not yet touched upon the hybrid body of Jigoro Kano. This is explained in the following taking excerpts from his life story.

(1) Trans-nationally minded: pacifism and international exchange; origination and spread of judo, promotion of sports, activities as IOC member, participation in and invitation of the Olympics, education of foreign-exchange students in Japan

(2) Concept of “moral doctrine”: “Seiryokuzenyou Jitakyoei ” as the general idea.

(3) Stance and philosophy as an educator: elimination of disciplinary, uniform properties of the body and too much importance to the spirit of self-governing; promotion of sports and budo such as athletic club activities, long-distance running, track-and-field meets, swimming and judo.

The spirit of budo, including judo, is attracting public attention around the world as being one form of Japanese cultural heritage. Based on the life story of Jigoro Kano, who can be said to be the creator of the spirit, it is necessary to review related “cultural and social capital.” It is Jigoro Kano who established the general idea of “moral doctrine” and pursed peace across borders, classifying and systematizing the body techniques of judo and the concept of body and spreading them around the world. For those of us who wish to promote world peace using the body and related culture, it is important to study the hybrid body of Jigoro Kano, a prominent educator and diplomat, irrespective of remarks about, or image of “budo.”

Note 1: In this paper, martial arts practiced in Japan and Asian countries from olden times, including jujutsu and kendo, are defined collectively as “bujutsu.” Irrespective of “bushido” being recognized as a kind of ethical idea or living norm, martial arts that spread throughout the world from Kodokan—where Jigoro Kano established the art called judo after comparing and examining various jujutsu schools in and after the 1890s—are to be defined collectively as “budo” (judo, kendo, kyudo, etc.).

Note 2: As to the relation between the history of body techniques in Japan and Arinori Mori, refer to Shimizu 2007. As for body of bujutsu and concept of body, refer to Shimizu 2002.


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(Ido: Movement for Culture, 8: 29-37, Committee of Scientific Research, Idokan Poland Association, Rzeszow, Poland, 2008)